Sunday, June 28, 2009

Parts of Speech

If you learned the parts of speech as I did in elementary school, you would list the following:

Noun
Pronoun
Verb
Adjective
Adverb
Preposition
Conjunction
Interjection

Reading William Lily's A Short Introduction of Grammar (for reasons too complex to get into here) I found that Lily, writing in the sixteenth century, also lists eight parts of speech, but his eight parts are slighly different:

Noun
Pronoun
Verb
Participle
Adverb
Preposition
Conjunction
Interjection

Notice the vanishing adjective. This is because Lily regards adjectives as one kind of noun -- he divides nouns into two groups, substantives, which can stand alone, and adjectives, which cannot stand alone but must be joined to something. His notion of a pronoun is somewhat odd; of it he says only that it is "much like to a noun" and "is used in shewing and rehearsing." I'm not sure precisely what he had in mind with this last phrase, but it may have something to do with first, second, and third person. Verbs have mood and tense; he identifies six moods: indicative, imperative, optative, potential, subjunctive, and infinitive. Participles are both verbish and nounish without being completely either. Of course, Lily is thinking of Latin through all this; but he often goes back and forth in using English and Latin examples, and the same list is found in Alexander Adam's eighteenth-century The Rudiments of English and Latin Grammar as applying to both languages. And the same is found in Greenwood's The Royal English Grammar.

I suspect that the source of the standard list, given above, is Joseph Priestley, who, while sighing about the arbitrariness of choosing just eight, made some slight modification:

I shall adopt the usual distribution of words into eight classes, viz.

Nouns, Adjectives, Pronouns, Verbs, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections.

I do this in compliance with the practice of most Grammarians; and because, if any number, in a thing so arbitrary, must be fixed upon, this seems to be as comprehensive and distinct as any. All the innovation I have made hath been to throw out the Participle, and fubstitute the Adjective, as more evidently a distinct part of speech.

[Joseph Priestley, The Rudiments of English (1772)]

An eighteenth century work, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, lists the following nine parts of speech:

Article
Substantive/Noun
Pronoun
Adjective
Verb
Adverb
Preoposition
Conjunction
Interjection

John Brightland, however, decided to have just four:

Name/Substantive
Quality/Adname/Adjective
Affirmation/Verb
Particle/Manner

Verbs are called affirmations instead because they all affirm something of something, which is logical enough: in effect, Brightland is making subject and predicate the foundation of his division. Prepositions are one kind of particle. Adverbs are another kind of particle; in fact, he regards them as collapsed prepositional phrases ('wisely' is just a one-word way of saying 'with wisdom'). Conjunctions are the third kind.

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